Hi there! Surprised to see me? I’m a little surprised to be here myself. Usually, I’m on the other end of this coffee pot, but I dumped my newspaper job last week, due to an overly friendly boss, and after taking a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, I’ve decided to pitch the “conventional life” and stake a claim of my own, (dead center in the vampire’s heart.)
In Writing a Woman’s Life (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) Carolyn G. Heilbrun states: “with highly gifted women, as with men, the failure to lead the conventional life, to find the conventional way early, may signify more than having been dealt a poor hand of cards. It may well be the forming of a life in the service of a talent felt, but unrecognized and unnamed. This condition is marked by a profound sense of vocation, with no idea of what that vocation is….”
I have no idea what that vocation will be either, except I will get there riding the nib of my pen, and not through being a female impersonator. So, while one of the regulars here is out of town a few weeks, I’m filling in, just to keep me in Oxford bond and Schaeffer’s ink. Besides I like the uniform. Powder pink and gravy stain are my colors don’t ya think?
A lot of women authors didn’t dress conventionally in the past either. George Sands dressed as a man, Emily Dickenson always dressed in pure white, and Dorothy Sayers was described by Mary Ellen Chase as wearing glasses which “quivered.” I like to imagine Madam Sands in all her multifarious trousers, walking the promenade pipe in hand, deep in contemplation of her characters. Maybe like Emily Dickenson, looking like a blank sheet of paper, waiting for the omnipotent author to take up pen in one hand and quivering glasses in the other to do battle amongst the gentlemen authors of the day.
Talk about perils and pitfalls! These women either did not recognize their life’s calling, were ill prepared for the life, unrecognized for their work by the community in which they lived, or had to dress and act to outrageously to attract the attention of scandal-needy society to gain their rightful credit. Only a small few of the “highly gifted women” were able to go beyond themselves, their families, and their place in society, to answer their “profound sense of vocation”
So what’s changed? How many times have people asked you “when are you going to get a real job?” Try explaining to a three-hundred-dollar-silk-suite clad woman how your novel is going and watch her eyes slowly glaze over as she sips her $5.00 non-fat latté while sneaking glances at her rolodex. Even the stay-at-home-mom next door snubs you with a sly “she-isn’t-raising-her-kids-right” smile when you mention that you write.
Writing is the only career that requires success before profession. A teacher never encounters “Oh, really, who have you taught?” before being allowed to claim the title of teacher. A politician is not asked “What war have you ended?” A hair dresser is not asked “whose hair have you done?” A doctor is not required to provide proof of patient healing before being allowed her M.D. Why is proof of publication demanded of a writer - “What have you written?” – before being allowed the title.
Even with the title “Published Author” the writing must be of a respectable genre and publicly renown before being allowed, albeit reluctantly, a career. I have deep suspicions my mother would rather I became a singing telegram stripper than a writer. At least she could say I sang for my supper….
I like the book Carolyn G. Heilbrun wrote – stumbled across it in a college library while researching Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night. It’s a trim, little book that will give you an amazing new look on women as authors. When I read across the above quoted lines, I snapped to attention as if I were suddenly caught with my hand in a cookie jar. I was literally (natch) rattled to my boots, and rushed out at the end of class, down to the commons and skipped my next class so I could read and re-read what had shaken me so much. I discovered not only dismay, but a conniving feeling creeping around within.
“Those coward symptoms have some latent spring that lies concealed within that treacherous heart…” - Walter Scott… I think. Little did my little High School English teacher suspect she would have any claim in the future of my vocation. Most likely she thought I’d be stamping license plates in the state pen, instead of standing here letting the coffee cool.
So, wha’cha want Kid? Pie? Coffee? Cook makes up a mean plate of eggs, and for you, I’ll even slide it onto clean crockery and call it the Blue Plate Special!